FRAMINGHAM – IT professional or salesperson — what do you consider yourself? For most readers of Computerworld, the answer is obvious. But it shouldn’t be.
The line between these two seemingly unrelated professions is becoming increasingly blurred. Investments in technology and an influx of new regulatory requirements have given IT professionals a more visible and pivotal role within their organizations, requiring knowledge and skills that extend beyond those of the typical IT practitioner.
Today, the most successful individuals have a sense of sales that helps them convey ideas, demonstrate to company decision-makers how a new software or hardware purchase can add value and explain how technology can enable the business to move forward.
Following are five sales-related skills that can benefit any IT professional:
Negotiation – Unlike sales, the IT profession may not be known for deal-making, but negotiation skills are put into play all the time in your line of work. One day you may need to convince the company president that outdated desktop systems should be replaced, and the next you may try to reach a better deal with a vendor on a software purchase. Excelling at negotiation involves doing research and building support for your case. If you’re advocating the purchase of new hardware, for example, you need to demonstrate how updated models can save end users time, increase productivity or allow staff to perform new functions. You also must be able to play devil’s advocate. Seeing the issue from the other side — in this case, why desktop updates could be viewed as an unnecessary expense — will help you prepare a rebuttal should someone disagree with your proposal. Above all, you should realize that the best negotiators are willing to compromise in order to reach solutions that satisfy all parties.
An eye on the bottom line – Sales is all about return on investment — how does a certain decision affect the company’s bottom line? The same consideration should drive your approach to your work. Before making a case for a new software system, consider whether the application will add value or simply be a cool tool for staff to use. For instance, while it might be nice to stream company announcements over an online video feed, what benefits would this actually bring? If the information gets across using conventional methods, such as e-mail or postings on the firm’s intranet, does the investment make sense? Keeping one eye on the bottom line requires you to see the big picture. You need a broad understanding of issues affecting the company and its industry. That means you need to invest time staying up to date with business trends in general. Reading business publications, attending conferences and getting to know colleagues in other departments and the issues their groups face are just a few ways you can widen your knowledge.
Communication – Skilled salespeople know how to speak their customers’ language. IT professionals, it has been said, speak a language that those outside the field often misunderstand. But the ability to communicate effectively with end users and management can make all the difference in your potential for professional advancement. Companies value employees who can explain complex information clearly and improve understanding of business strategies or goals throughout the organization.
As a result, it’s key that you’re able to tailor your messages to different audiences. This involves using plain English whenever possible and avoiding buzzwords or acronyms unless they’re widely understood. Communicating with nontechnical colleagues may even mean limiting the words you use. For instance, when explaining AJAX to employees from the marketing department, it may be more effective to pull up Google Maps or Yahoo Mail than to try to explain all of the technical underpinnings.
An outside-the-box approach – Many sales professionals are successful because they can identify a market need and fill it quickly, often by using an existing product in a new way. The same is often true in the technology world. For example, some companies are adapting digital music players for use as an employee development tool, loading the devices with training lectures and videos. Other firms have created internal wikis to help staffers better communicate and share information.
When designing a product or system, keep an open mind. In what other ways can it benefit the firm? Perhaps a procedure you enacted to ensure development deadlines are met, for instance, can be adapted for other departments. Along the same lines, are there existing procedures you can borrow or adopt from other sources to avoid reinventing the wheel? Proactivity.
Above all, successful sales professionals are proactive. They don’t wait for opportunity to knock; instead, they create opportunities for themselves. When it comes to your career, don’t sit back and hope new projects or roles will materialize on their own. Volunteer for assignments that allow you to expand your skills or interact with new contacts. Consider enrolling in professional development courses so you remain on the leading edge of your field. Being proactive not only demonstrates to your manager that you are always looking for new ways to benefit the company but also increases your marketability when you’re on the hunt for a new employer.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia and offers online job search services at www.rht.com